Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills announces Farm Bill funding support to improve water quality in the Delaware River Basin. NRCS photo.
The Delaware River watershed is one of our nation’s most treasured resources. It is home to more than 7 million people and the water supply for more than 15 million in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. An historic new Farm Bill program at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help farmers and local leaders make investments to keep the watershed healthy and vibrant for years to come.
Secretary Vilsack recently announced the recipients of the 2014 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards. This new program will invest $1.2 billion over five years in innovative, partner-driven strategies to protect air and water quality, make more efficient use of water resources, restore habitat and protect open spaces. This year’s RCPP awards nation-wide total more than $370 million dollars. Counting the dollar-for-dollar partner match, almost three quarters of a billion dollars will be invested in private land conservation through the RCPP. Read more »
A water sample taken from the last wetland in a filtering system in use on a farm in Taylor County, Iowa. Wetlands and other conservation practices on agricultural land can improve water quality, and may allow producers the option of selling water quality credits in a water quality trading market. Photo Credit: NRCS
USDA has a long history of working with partners to meet the needs of America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners while striving to sustain the natural resources we rely on. American farmers produce food for the U.S. and the world, and also provide benefits for air, water and habitats through the adoption of conservation practices. In recent years, USDA has taken a more innovative approach to conservation by supporting the development of water quality trading markets.
Water quality trading can lower the costs of cleaning up waterways by allowing sources of pollutants with high costs of reducing pollution to purchase credits from others with lower costs. Often agricultural producers have relatively low costs of improving water quality, which makes farmers and ranchers prime candidates to generate water quality credits for sale. This offers the agricultural sector opportunities to improve the natural resource base and earn additional income through credit sales. Read more »
Support for those affected by disasters is critical. By developing more comprehensive tools that prepare citizens and government before the next event helps. Helping communities rebuild and become more resilient to extreme weather in the future is vital.
Citizens need to be able to access accurate information in real time, before, during and after these devastating events. The growing open data collaboration between data producers and data users can help with recovery efforts while being more transparent and local. Read more »
Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills meets with producer Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California. USDA photo.
Recently I traveled to California to meet with farmers who are coping with the state’s historic drought. This was my second trip to the Golden State in recent months to see first-hand how USDA’s disaster assistance and conservation programs are helping producers and rural communities, and to continue the conversation about how USDA and the federal government as a whole can support efforts to build long term resilience to drought.
My first visit was with Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California. Rick practices land stewardship on the 4,000 acres he farms and through his leadership as a member of the area Resource Conservation District. While he doesn’t face the exact same set of water shortage pressures experienced by California’s Central Valley farmers, Rick recognizes that the state’s drought may well extend into the foreseeable future and has a long-term plan to build resilience for his operation. As he has done over the past several years, he continues to install drip irrigation in his tomato fields and is experimenting with drip irrigation for his alfalfa and corn crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides cost share assistance for some of these investments – but Rick pays for 100 percent of other investments because it makes good business sense. He is able to reduce water use and input costs while increasing yields. Read more »
Terry Dabbs gives Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Nancy Stoner, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for Water (right), a tour of his farm. (NRCS photo by Reginald L. Jackson)
I recently toured several farms near Stuttgart, Ark. with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner, state officials and conservationists. We met farmers working to clean and conserve water using conservation efforts, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The tour provided me and my colleagues from Washington, D.C. and almost a dozen states an opportunity to see firsthand how voluntary, incentive-conservation practices are helping Arkansas farmers maintain productivity while protecting wildlife habitat and improving water quality and water use efficiency.
On Terry Dabbs’ Discovery Farm, we heard how the combination of conservation practices results in better water quality. As Dabbs said, if he is contributing to poor water quality downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, he wants to know about it and fix it. Read more »
USDA Deputy Undersecretary Ann Mills (ninth from left) visits with Leopold Conservation Award winners at USDA last week. USDA photo.
“Water conservation begins where the first drop of rain falls…most likely on private working lands.” This is a favorite saying of Tom Vandivier, a Texas cattle rancher and 2008 recipient of the Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award (LCA).
Tom was one of more than two dozen recipients of the LCA – which recognized landowners for achievement in environmental improvement on agricultural land – in Washington, D.C. last week. I was fortunate to meet with them here at USDA headquarters to talk about the importance of conservation and the need to spread the message that investing in conservation practices on our farm and ranch lands not only protects water, air and wildlife – it also makes economic sense. Read more »